It’s fitting that on a night when the episode dealt with a killer who, because of a mental illness, believes herself to be dead and needs to be constantly reminded otherwise, we learned NBC had finally made a second season order for Hannibal – effectively telling the show’s devoted fans that the series was, in fact, not dead either.
Great news aside, ‘Buffet Froid’ is an unusual episode that gives a distinctive look at what happens when Hannibal decides to tell its own version of a ghost story. To do this, the series brought in director John Dahl to perform the marriage of the show’s unique visual storytelling and heavy genre elements with a pervasive feeling that something vaguely supernatural is transpiring. And the resulting episode turned out to be one of the most atmospherically effective of the season, even if some of the narrative was more or less a retread of bits from earlier, and many of the parallels drawn between Will and the killer felt somewhat put on.
For the most part, Will’s sanity has continued to slip, causing no end of concern amongst his colleagues like Jack Crawford and Beverly Katz, and a seemingly inexhaustible amount of curiosity in his “friend” and therapist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Meanwhile, a killer with a similar inability to correctly perceive reality has recently murdered a young woman in her home, slicing her face open from ear to ear and attempting to peel the skin off as though it were a mask.
In a terrifying opening sequence, a young woman named Beth Lebeaux watches while wet footprints appear on the ceiling above her bed, but a brief investigation leads her to conclude a gaping hole in her roof is the true culprit. Beth returns to her room only to be dragged underneath her bed and dispatched in a rather gruesome fashion by what we can only imagine is the boogeyman.
Of course, there’s nothing explicitly supernatural going on; it’s all grounded in the very specific reality the show has set up for itself. A woman named Georgia who, as Dr. Lecter correctly diagnoses, suffers from something called Cotard’s Syndrome – which causes those afflicted by it to incorrectly conclude that they are dead – killed Beth. Moreover, Georgia may also suffer from leprosy, and is unable to recognize faces (or perceive them at all, as we see at the end of the episode), leading her to lash out violently against world around her.
Like many of the other killers that have appeared on the show, Georgia’s particular condition is designed mostly to inform on the condition of Will Graham. As we’ve seen in recent episodes, Will has been experiencing increased hallucinations and episodes of time loss that are not necessarily associated with his empathetic disorder. As a result, Will has begun to question the world around him, making him at once a potential liability for Jack Crawford and an even more unique toy for Dr. Lecter.
The twist in the episode, however, comes from the discovery of the source of Will’s hallucinations. As it turns out, that moment a few weeks back when Lecter gave Will a pronounced sniff, he wasn’t considering whether the young man might be best served with a béarnaise sauce or what wine to pair with his succulent flesh; the good doctor was diagnosing an acute case of encephalitis. But rather than help Will, Lecter convinces his pal Dr. Sutcliff (John Benjamin Hickey) to forego treatment, so they may observe Will’s condition caused by, as Sutcliff put it, “[setting] his mind on fire.”
This presents an interesting turn of events that illustrates just how much control Hannibal has over these characters simply by creating the impression he is the sanest person in the room. As evidenced by the Will’s case of encephalitis and the fact that he remains in the dark about it, Hannibal has an authority over Will that’s unmatched by the romantic allure of Dr. Bloom, or even the supposed “bedrock” of Jack Crawford’s character. Will may have an empathetic disorder, but he’s not insane. But if left unchecked, the “fire” in his mind will continue to have far-reaching ramifications for everyone involved – not unlike the way Georgia’s mother expressed the grim realization that they only relief for her daughter would likely be through her demise. The hallucinations and loss of time have begun to define Will’s actions, and this belief they are caused by a mental illness rather than a physical one makes him even more unstable, and that affects the stability of those around him since so much emphasis has been put on his presence.
What this means for the larger picture, or the reveal of Hannibal’s “design” is yet to be known. Hannibal could simply be looking for a toy to play with, or this could all be leading to something bigger that traces back to the Chesapeake Ripper. Whatever he has in mind, it’s clear that, for the time being, Hannibal is in control.
Hannibal continues next Thursday with ‘Roti’ @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: